It has been exceptionally cold here in New Jersey for the past week, so last night I had planned on making a simple, comforting, and warming dinner of Tuscan chicken and white beans. That’s it – nothing fancy. Unfortunately, the best laid plans are often put asunder. Unexpected dinner guests left me with eight mouths to feed, and ingredients for a recipe that only serves six. I wasn’t about to head back out in the cold to run to the market, so I improvised. I made the Tuscan chicken and white bean dinner that I had planned for, only I served it over whole wheat penne topped with a little shredded asiago cheese. I also heated some garlic bread and tossed together a simple mixed green salad and managed to turn my recipe for six into a substantial dinner for eight.

So what is the point of this long-winded story? You need to PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD! A recipe is merely a guideline……not a law. Don’t like white beans? No problem – chop some broccoli, mushrooms and spinach, and top the dish with a little red sauce instead. Change up the herbs if you prefer different flavors. Even change the proportions of herbs and veggies called for in a recipe to suit your mood and your tastebuds. The recipe merely gives you the idea – you have the ability to make it your own, special dish by playing with the ingredients a little. Not only may you surprise yourself with the results – but chances are you’ll have some fun along the way.

For the Marinade:

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/8 cup ( 2 tablespoons) lemon juice

4 sprigs fresh oregano leaves

4 sprigs fresh tarragon leaves

4 sprigs fresh basil leaves

4 sprigs fresh parsley

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

freshly ground pepper to taste

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For the chicken and beans:

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes (about 1-inch cubes)

2 tablespoons olive or canola oil

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1 1/2 cups cooked white cannellini beans (canned is fine – just rinse them off first)

salt and pepper, to taste

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To prepare the marinade, I have found that it is easiest to use a food processor or blender. In the bowl of the food processor, place the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, oregano, tarragon, basil, parsley, rosemary, and pepper. Blend all of the ingredients well until a smooth “paste” is formed (add water one tablespoon at a time, if necessary, to help blend it if the mixture looks a little too thick.)

Place the marinade in a shallow lidded container or zip top bag, and add the chicken. Refrigerate the chicken in the marinade for at least 2 hours (or as long as long as overnight.)

When you are ready to begin cooking, heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Then add the cubed chicken, and allow it sit without stirring it so that it can brown lightly. After about 3 minutes, begin stirring the chicken and add the onion. Saute for 2 minutes, until the onion begins to soften slightly; add the beans, and continue to cook for 2 minutes longer, until the chicken is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper.

Make 6 servings. Per Serving: 327 calories, 8 g total fat, less than 2 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 10 g carbohydrates, 7 g fiber, 0 g added sugar, 49 g protein, 220 mg sodium, 118 mg cholesterol

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